Archive for September, 2010

Arkansas’ barbecue culture

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

I had the honor recently of being asked by my friends at the Southern Foodways Alliance on the Ole Miss campus to write the introduction for the Arkansas section of the SFA’s Southern BBQ Trail.

You already can find oral histories from Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas posted at

Oral histories currently are being collected from Arkansas.

I’ve never felt that the Arkansas barbecue culture gets the credit it deserves.


Here’s part of what I wrote: “Unlike their boastful Texas neighbors, Arkansans quietly prepare great barbecue, enjoy eating it and move on with their lives. Because the natives don’t brag, Arkansas barbecue has never received the national recognition it deserves.

“Let’s make one fact clear: Some of the best barbecue anywhere can be found in Arkansas though national TV shows and magazine articles tend to focus on North Carolina or Texas barbecue. In addition to the modesty of its natives, a reason for the lack of recognition might be that people from outside the state have a hard time figuring Arkansas out. It’s a fringe state, not solely a part of any one region. It’s a state that’s mostly Southern but also a bit Midwestern and a tad Southwestern. Northwest Arkansas is far different from southeast Arkansas. Northeast Arkansas doesn’t have much in common with southwest Arkansas.

“One thing all parts of Arkansas have in common is that her people, while never boastful, are proud. … So what if outsiders can’t figure us out? Those of us in Arkansas already know we have a good thing going when it comes to food.”

If you love barbecue, you need to spend some time at the Southern BBQ Trail website. The website includes not only the oral histories but also photos, film snippets, audio clips and an interactive map.

In his introduction, Jake Adam York writes: “Barbecue, barbeque, bar-b-q, BBQ: there are almost as many spellings as there are kinds of barbecue, as if the proliferation of words could express the mastering tastes and aromas of the food, all the experiences that can fill the mouth, the place where also words begin.

“Today, barbecue is more popular than ever and can be found by a hungry Southerner in almost any American city, but barbecue will always be Southern because, as an American cuisine, that’s where it began and because that’s where it continues to evolve most interestingly.

“Though the word barbecue devolves from Taino, a pre-Columbian Caribbean language, the native method described by the word — the slow drying of sliced, spiced meat, over a low, smoky fire — seems to have been fairly widespread in the eastern Caribbean at the time of European contact, being practiced in what would become Brazil as well as in what would become Virginia.

“But it was in Virginia and in the Carolinas that barbecue as we know it would begin to evolve. In Virginia, British colonists observed the Native American method of drying meat on a grill of green sticks over a smoking fire and soon married this method to their own interest in spit-cooking hogs and other small animals. The British introduced their own native practices, including basting — either with butter or with vinegar — to keep the meat from drying while cooking.

“Slaves of African descent, imported from the Caribbean, brought a taste (developed in the islands) for New World peppers, especially red pepper. Along the Atlantic seaboard, then, when the vinegar and butter combined with the spices and peppers, barbecue sauce arrived on the Southerner’s and the Briton’s favorite hog. Even today in eastern North Carolina, you can find whole-hog barbecue, lightly seasoned with vinegar and black and red peppers, colonial style.

“In South Carolina, in the Broad River Valley, German and French immigrants brought their taste and recipes for mustard, which helped repel malarial mosquitoes, and these mustards found their way into that colonial food, barbecue, and remained there, through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and two World Wars, to be found even today in the same Broad River Valley.

“To the west, in the Piedmont area of North Carolina, probably toward the end of the 19th or the beginning of the 20th century, barbecue cooks began using just the shoulder of the hog when barbecuing, an innovation perhaps encouraged by the growth of the meat curing and packing industries. In this same area, populated largely by Germans, German-style coleslaw, both sweet and spicy, dressed the pork, and the tomato, only recently determined edible, sweetened the fare.”

Back to Arkansas.

You can easily begin an argument on the best place to get barbecue in our state.

Here’s how I broke it down for the SFA: “The strongest barbecue area of the state is the Delta region of east Arkansas. The barbecue is pork here (beef has crept from Texas into parts of southwest Arkansas), though the sauces vary from place to place. At Craig’s in DeValls Bluff along U.S. Highway 70, you’ll walk into the ramshackle building and immediately be asked if you want your barbecue mild, medium or hot. The hot sauce is just that. Most of the regulars go the medium route. The crowd here is a mixture of locals, hunters from Little Rock and Memphis when it’s duck season and those who are wise enough to get off Interstate 40 and find their way to DeValls Bluff.

“In Marianna, meanwhile, Jones Bar-B-Q is in an old house in a residential area. Jones has been around since at least the early 1900s. While it’s hard to determine the exact year it opened, there are some people who believe it’s the oldest continually operated black-owned restaurant in the South.

“Up in the far northeast corner of the state, you can find the Dixie Pig at Blytheville, whose fan page on Facebook has almost 1,500 members. For more than 70 years, the ‘pig sandwiches’ here have drawn people from as far away as Memphis and the Missouri Bootheel.

“It’s common for restaurants to use the name ‘pig’ in a state where the beloved athletic teams at the University of Arkansas go by ‘Razorbacks’ and people ‘call the Hogs’ at football games. Not only is there a Dixie Pig in Blytheville, there’s a different restaurant with the same name in North Little Rock. The oldest barbecue joint in central Arkansas is the White Pig in a working-class neighborhood of North Little Rock. Alas, the venerable Pig Pit at Arkadelphia changed its name to Fat Boys a few years back, though barbecue still dominates the menu.

“While east Arkansas is widely regarded as barbecue country, the most famous barbecue restaurant in the state is likely McClard’s in the southwest Arkansas resort city of Hot Springs. Given the fact that Bill Clinton grew up in Hot Springs, McClard’s has received some media attention through the years. That attention is deserved, even in a barbecue-rich city that has other quality barbecue establishments with names like Purity and Stubby’s. Alex and Gladys McClard owned the Westside Tourist Court in the 1920s. When a traveler could not come up with $10 he owed them, he asked the couple to accept a recipe for barbecue sauce instead. By 1928, the Westside Tourist Court was Westside Bar-B-Q with barbecued goat as the featured item on the menu. McClard’s moved to its present location in 1942 and hasn’t changed much since, though the goat has disappeared from the list of entrees.

“People from outside Arkansas, incidentally, think Bill Clinton came from Hope. He was born in Hope but moved to Hot Springs as a young child. Clinton finished elementary school, junior high school and high school  in Hot Springs. For Arkansans, he was always considered a Hot Springs product. Suddenly, during the 1992 presidential campaign, he became the ‘man from Hope’ when consultants determined that ‘I still believe in a place called Hot Springs’ just didn’t have the same ring to it.

“It’s another example of how this state of contradictions known as Arkansas confounds outsiders. The same goes for its barbecue. Define Arkansas barbecue, you say? Impossible. Just shut up and eat, the Arkansan will tell you.”

There you have it. Time for you to weigh in. Best barbecue region in the state? Best barbecue city the state? Slaw or no slaw on your sandwich? Best barbecue restaurant in the state? Best wood for smoking? Does it have to be pork to be Arkansas barbecue?

College football — Week 5

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Congratulations to Scott Buisson, the talented senior quarterback at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

In a losing cause Saturday night (a 30-25 loss to Arkansas Tech), Buisson became the state’s all-time total offense leader. He accomplished that feat despite missing two possessions in the second half due to a broken finger on his throwing hand.

Now, it appears Buisson will miss several weeks of his senior season.

Against Tech, Buisson had 249 yards of total offense. He only needed 206 yards to break the record of former UCA quarterback Nathan Brown, who had 10,993 yards from 2005-08. Buisson now has 11,037 yards of offense in his remarkable career.

Buisson also broke the UAM record for career touchdown passes. He has thrown 63 TD passes in his career, breaking the record of 61 that Kevin McCarn set from 1997-2000.

The six Arkansas schools in the Gulf South Conference — Ouachita, Henderson, UAM, Tech, Harding and Southern Arkansas — play a quality brand of college football. I wish more Arkansans would take advantage of the opportunity to see great NCAA Division II games, especially on weekends such as this one when both Arkansas and UCA have open dates.

Witness the fact that UAM has handily defeated teams from the NCAA Division I-AA SWAC for three consecutive seasons. The Boll Weevils defeated Southern University, 31-7, in Baton Rouge in a season when they’re just 1-2 so far against GSC teams. The GSC is to Division II what the SEC is to Division I. Get out and see some games if you get a chance. Ticket prices are a bargain, the parking is easy and the entertainment value is high.

Unfortunately, the six Arkansas schools are receiving (due to a combination of staff changes and a reduction in space) the least football coverage from the statewide newspaper that I can recall in the 40 years I’ve been reading Little Rock newspapers. It’s a shame.

I went 6-2 last week, making the record 24-8 for the year. Don’t mortgage the house just yet on these picks.

Louisville 28, Arkansas State 24 — Picking ASU games is maddening because the Red Wolves are so darn inconsistent. The bad news is that they haven’t been consistently good since they were a Division I-AA school coached by Larry Lacewell. The good news is that under Steve Roberts’ leadership, they haven’t been as consistently bad as they were under some of Lacewell’s successors. Since I’m picking Louisville to win in Jonesboro on Saturday night, you can probably safely bet that ASU will pull off the upset. The 1-3 Red Wolves lost a 35-28 heartbreaker to Troy on Saturday. Ryan Aplin threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Allen Muse with just 50 seconds left, and the extra point put the Red Wolves up by one, 28-27. But ASU is becoming known for losing games in the final minute. This time it happened when Troy’s Corey Robinson threw a 17-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining. Louisville lost its opener by a score of 23-16 to a decent Kentucky team, beat Eastern Kentucky by a score of 23-13 and then fell at Oregon State by a score of 35-28. The Cardinals are in their first year under head coach Charlie Strong, the Batesville native who graduated from UCA in 1982 and worked on his master’s degree at Henderson a year later. The late Sporty Carpenter, the legendary head coach at Henderson, was known for finding jobs for people. He was able to get Strong a job as a graduate assistant at Florida. That’s where Strong spent most of his career as an assistant between stops at Southern Illinois, Notre Dame and South Carolina.

UAPB 22, Southern 19 — The Golden Lions got their first win of the season with a 35-19 victory over Clark-Atlanta before a crowd of 22,781 at the Gateway Classic in the Edward Jones Dome at St. Louis. Quarterback Josh Boudreaux was 16 of 24 passing for 212 yards for the 1-2 Golden Lions. If UAM can rout Southern in Baton Rouge, surely UAPB can leave town with a victory. The Jaguars also are 1-2. They began the season with a win over Delaware State in nationally televised game from Orlando. That has been followed by losses to UAM and Alabama A&M.

Henderson 35, UAM 30 — These are two good football teams even though both are 2-2. UAM has wins over Ouachita and Southern along with losses to Arkansas Tech nationally ranked West Alabama. Henderson has defeated Southeastern Oklahoma and Arkansas Tech while losing to two nationally ranked teams, No. 3 North Alabama and No. 19 Delta State. If Buisson were well, I would probably go with the Boll Weevils. Since he’s hurt, I’ll pick the Reddies to win at home. Henderson had 466 yards of offense in its 41-37 loss to Delta State last weekend. Reddie senior quarterback Nick Hardesty was 21 of 36 passing for 211 yards in that game.

North Alabama 42, Arkansas Tech 28 — It appears that Terry Bowden’s Lions, with 26 Division I transfers, are simply in another league. At least the 2-2 Wonder Boys have found a quarterback. In his first start, freshman quarterback Rico Keller rushed for 209 yards and passed for 78 yards in the win over UAM.

Valdosta State 35, Ouachita 32 — No one doubts that 3-1 Ouachita can score points. The Tigers, who are receiving votes for the Top 25, have scored 176 points in four games. But the defense, which returned nine starters from last year, has been a disappointment. It has given up 37 and 34 points the past two weeks. Ouachita came from 15 down in the first half and 13 down in the second half to defeat Harding, 37-34, last Saturday in Arkadelphia. Ouachita senior quarterback Eli Cranor completed 24 of 40 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns in that game. This is the homecoming game for the 3-1 Blazers, who defeated the 0-4 Muleriders of Southern Arkansas by a score of 27-0 last week. The defense scored three touchdowns for Valdosta in that game, returning two fumbles and one interception for touchdowns. This could be a high-scoring affair.

Lambuth 30, Harding 27 — This game intrigues me. Harding is 1-2 but could easily be 3-0, having lost close road games at West Georgia and Ouachita. Lambuth is not your typical NAIA school. It’s known for knocking off NCAA Division II teams. Lambuth is 2-2. The victories were against Bill Curry’s first-year program at Georgia State in Atlanta and against West Alabama, which is No. 15 in this week’s Division II poll.  The losses were to Arkansas Tech and North Alabama.

West Georgia 21, Southern Arkansas 17 — The Muleriders continue to struggle. They are 0-4 after losses to Harding, Texas State, North Alabama and Valdosta State. This week, they must make the long trip to the University of West Georgia in Carrollton. West Georgia is not nearly as good as either North Alabama or Valdosta State even though the school now has perhaps the best stadium in all of Division II. The Wolves are 2-2, having lost to Wingate and North Alabama while defeating Concordia and Harding. The Muleriders have a chance Saturday. I’ll give West Georgia the slight edge since the Wolves are home and it’s homecoming.

Alabama 24, Arkansas 20 — Adding some perspective

Monday, September 27th, 2010

In an attempt to put Arkansas’ 24-20 loss to Alabama in perspective, I came up with the following analogy in advance of my Sunday morning appearance with Bill Vickery on Little Rock radio station KABZ-FM, The Buzz:

Picture Bobby Petrino as the head of a theatrical troupe.

When he took his current job, the troupe was in Cedar Rapids doing several shows a week in front of small audiences with an occasional visit to a larger city.

Soon, Petrino had it doing off-Broadway productions in New York.

Quickly, things reached the point that a Broadway production was scheduled. There had been steady progress in the quality of the troupe.

Things went well on opening night for the first few acts. But in the final act, the lead actor flubbed his lines. The production was panned by the theater critic at The New York Times, and the production had a short run.

Seeing how talented Petrino is, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be back on Broadway one of these days.

On opening night, though, his troupe was not quite ready to play on the biggest of stages.

Soon after Saturday’s game had ended, Kane Webb (who is certainly among the four or five best writers in this state) sent me an e-mail. Kane and I are former sportswriters and longtime students of the Arkansas psyche who try to put these sorts of things in perspective. Kane’s missive Saturday night posed this question: “Rate this loss. Was it 1969 bad? 1998 Tennessee bad? Arkansas-Auburn when the Hogs started 4-0 with Matt Jones bad? Or just Florida last year bad?”

Those who say it’s 1969 or even 1998 bad are either young fans or lacking in perspective.

The 1969 Texas game was the final game of the regular season — No. 1 against No. 2. It was a game destined to have entire books written about it.

The 1998 Tennessee game was late in the season, the ninth game for Arkansas. With a win, Arkansas would have been in the hunt for a national championship when it really matters — in November.

For gosh sakes, it’s September. This was only Arkansas’ second Southeastern Conference game. It was Alabama’s SEC opener. It’s early.

Alabama must play Florida this week and South Carolina the following week. There’s also LSU. The regular season ends with the Iron Bowl against Auburn. It’s quite possible that Alabama will lose at least one of those games.

Arkansas must still play Auburn, South Carolina and LSU. A decent performance against Alabama meant that the Razorbacks only dropped from No. 10 to No. 15 with the loss. Let’s say Arkansas takes care of business Oct. 9 at Jerry World against the Aggies of Texas A&M. Let’s say the Hogs then go on the road the following week and defeat Auburn (no easy task). Barring a meltdown or key injuries, the Razorbacks certainly should beat Ole Miss and and Vanderbilt in back-to-back games at Fayetteville on Oct. 23 and Oct. 30.

That would put the Hogs at 7-1 going into their Nov. 6 game at South Carolina and probably back in the Top 10.

Beat South Carolina and you stay in the Top 10. Take out UTEP in Fayetteville and Mississippi State at Starkville. You’re 10-1 and the whole country is watching again as LSU comes to Little Rock on Nov. 27.

Like I said, it’s early.

Lose two of the three games to Auburn, South Carolina and LSU and you’re likely in the Cotton Bowl at 9-3. Lose all three and the Cotton Bowl will probably still take you at 8-4.

Lose only one of those three games and you go to the Capital One Bowl at 10-2.

If you run the table and go 11-1? BCS, here we come.

So let’s all take a deep breath. This is not 1969 against Texas. It’s not even 1998 against Tennessee. It’s more like the Florida game last year.

And while we’re adding perspective, let’s kill that national media angle that Arkansas hasn’t played any meaningful football games in three decades. Just three years ago, the Razorbacks ended the regular season by defeating No. 1 LSU. Yes, I know it had been 31 years since two Top 10 teams had played in Fayetteville. But we’re only four years removed from two Top 10 teams playing in Little Rock. To refresh your memory, LSU beat Arkansas, 31-26, on the afternoon of Nov. 24, 2006. Both teams finished the regular season 10-2. Thirty-one years sounds a lot more dramatic than four years in national media accounts, though.

Yes, there were some big games (and some big wins) in the Houston Nutt era. Let’s not forget that. But here’s what I see as the potential difference between the Nutt era and the Petrino era: The Nutt era was a constant roller coaster. You always knew that a win over Alabama could be followed by a loss to Vanderbilt.

Petrino has the potential (yes, I’m on the Bobby P. bandwagon) of creating a consistent winner at Arkansas. You get the feeling that he can build a program that gets back on Broadway and plays on that big stage a lot more consistently than in the past.

Can Arkansas ever be Saban-era, Alabama good?

I doubt it.

Alabama has more money, more fans and a lot more tradition. Saturday marked Alabama’s 19th consecutive win in an SEC opener, its 18th win in a row and its 28th consecutive regular season win. During the past three seasons, Alabama is 11-2 against teams in the Top 25. It was Alabama’s fourth straight victory over Arkansas and its fifth in the past six games between the two schools.

Arkansas can, however, be good on a more consistent basis than it has been since joining the SEC in 1992. That’s the direction Petrino has his program heading if his defense will continue to improve and if he can ever find a running game.

When I made predictions last week, I wrote: “Alabama should win. Arkansas might. Alabama has superior athletes at most positions. … Alabama knows how to win big games on the road. If these two teams were to play five times, Alabama likely would win four of them. But that one Razorback win could happen Saturday. The fans might storm the field and carry the goal posts over to Dickson Street. We might still be talking about it 20 years from now. Here’s what I think will really happen: Arkansas will play well and hang with Alabama for three quarters. Superior depth will make the difference in the fourth quarter.”

In this case, I hate it that I was right.

Face it. The better team won Saturday. Alabama proved it deserves its No. 1 ranking. It’s not easy to come from 13 points down on the road in the SEC.

All Greg McElroy does is win. He’s now 18-0 as a starting quarterback at Alabama. He was 16-0 his senior season in high school at Southlake Carroll in the Dallas area. That’s 34-0 . McElroy had only four interceptions in 14 games last season. He had two Saturday in the second quarter. But he never lost his composure, running the Bama offense to near perfection in the second half.

Alabama had the ball for 19:04 of the second half. In the fourth quarter, Alabama had the ball for 11:25. That’s what great teams do.

And what about Ryan “Vanilla Ice” Mallett, who threw three interceptions for the first time as a Razorback?

He’s a tremendous talent who made deadly mental mistakes down the stretch. Hopefully, he can learn from those mistakes.

Mallett was 15 of 22 passing for 250 yards and one touchdown in the first half. After Alabama made adjustments, he was 10 of 16 for only 107 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in the second half.

His physical ability is indeed Heisman worthy. But great quarterbacks make smart decisions when the pressure is on. There’s still work for Petrino to do when it comes to Vanilla Ice.

How good will this Arkansas team be?

I’m thinking 9-3 or perhaps even 10-2 with a break or two at South Carolina or Auburn. Either record will show continued progress in the Petrino era.

One only had to look at the visitors’ sideline at Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday afternoon to see the kind of program he’s trying to build.

Alabama is back under Nick Saban and has been for a couple of years.

Arkansas remains a work in progress.

Tommy Smith of 103.7 The Buzz

Friday, September 24th, 2010

This blog is different from many blogs. In other words, it’s not a breaking news blog.

Instead, I tend to do three or four longer, essay-style posts each week rather than a lot of short posts.

That said, this will be a short post.

Tommy Smith of KABZ-FM, 103.7, in Little Rock is my friend. Like many of our Arkansas readers, I’m shocked by the news that Tommy suffered a seizure on the air this morning and was transported to the hospital.

I’m not a radio expert (though I’ve dabbled in that medium since age 13), but I can state this: Tommy has long been popular in this market, especially among the male demographic, because he is real — an authentic Arkansan who loves this state, loves its history and traditions, loves the Hogs, loves visiting the Redneck Riviera, loves fried chicken, loves barbecue and loves his wife while still loving to look at those pretty Southern women.

Like all of us, he has his faults and has not been shy about sharing those faults on the air through the years.

Those of us who are Arkansas boys — those of us who grew up calling the Hogs, hunting, fishing and even spending afternoons at Diego’s — can relate to Tommy.

It’s why we listen. He’s not some golden throat imported from another market. He’s one of us with the same likes and dislikes.

He’s also a man with a  heart “as big as Dallas” as they used to say down my way. My favorite mornings are those I get to spend on the air with Tommy trading “Arkansas stories.”

Get well, my friend.

UPDATE: At 4:30 p.m. Friday, The Buzz reports that Tommy is “resting comfortably” and that his condition is NOT a life-threatening condition.

Dear ol’ Mabelvale High (and Little Rock dining)

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about Little Rock’s past. As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve spent the past week reading Jay Jennings’ excellent new book, “Carry The Rock,” which takes the reader from 1927 through 1987 in the state’s largest city.

For those who want to take a trip back into the Pulaski County of the 1950s, I strongly recommend a website created for graduates of Mabelvale High School, a school that existed from 1881 until 1966. I somehow stumbled upon it while doing Arkansas history research. You can find plenty of strange things on the web, wasting time in the process. But occasionally you’ll find a treasure. This is a treasure, the work of Raymond Merritt, Mabelvale High School class of 1960.

It’s at

He writes, “I had this website on my business server in 2006, and when I retired and closed the business I had to take it all down. I tried to put the site on my free Comcast pages, but Comcast is slow. I am now hosted by, and I’ll stay here as long as I can afford to keep up the payments. … This is a work constantly in progress. There are no pop-ups, no advertisements, no link to porn or nude women or cell phone companies or mortgage services. Nothing here but memories.”

As someone who writes often about food, I particularly enjoyed the memories of the food that was eaten in those years and the restaurants that served Pulaski County residents.

“We predated fast-food restaurants,” Merritt writes. “The first fast-food chain I remember was McDonald’s on University across from UALR. It was an original-style McDonald’s with the two huge 60-foot yellow arches that could be seen from Meadowcliff. And McDonald’s didn’t have a Big Mac until 1968, and the quarter-pounder didn’t show up until 1971. … When I ate my first 15-cent McDonald’s hamburger, I discovered they put ketchup on them and they wouldn’t leave it off whether you liked it or not, so it was off to Roach’s for me.”

Roach’s was at Geyer Springs and Mabelvale Pike. According to Merritt, the foot-long chili dog there was second only to Perciful’s Drive-In. The original Perciful’s was at Eighth and Arch. It opened in 1942. A second location was opened next to the state fairgrounds on West Roosevelt. There’s now a Perciful’s way out at 20400 Arch St.

“Before there were fast-food restaurants there were lunch counters, which served the same purpose: a quick meal at a reasonable cost,” Merritt writes. “Walgreen’s and Lane drugstores at Fifth and Main both had lunch counters. Woolworth’s lunch counter on Main made the best club sandwich in town. Baseline Pharmacy on Baseline Road made the best malts. If you went to the lunch counter in the Village Drugstore in the Village Shopping Center at Asher and University, the pharmacist, Eli Wolf, might personally make you a chocolate soda, but you had to watch that he didn’t drop cigar ashes in it.”

He continues, “At a lunch counter, you really could get a vanilla Coke, or a cherry Coke or the nectar of the gods, a cherry lime. Or a shake or malted (just called a malt). Or a float (root beer or Coke). Or an ice cream soda, fizzed the old-fashioned way, an art this is most likely now lost. Or a Coke freeze (blended Coke and vanilla ice cream). All served in glass glasses. With whipped cream. With a maraschino cherry. And chances are good that anything creamy was made with Fortune’s Famous Ice Cream from the Fortune’s factory on Asher. When I went into the Navy, I was stationed in Boston. I couldn’t find shakes or malts, so I gave up. I was there over a year before I found out they have them there, but they call a shake a frappe. And if you ask them, they’ll add the malt. Stupid Yankees.”

Among the old restaurants mentioned on the website are the Canton Tea Garden at 211 Main, Granoff’s at 10th and Main, Peck’s on Markham, Peck’s Barbecue on Asher, Howard Johnson’s at Asher and University, Old King Cole at Capitol and Broadway, Sandy’s on Markham, Hammon’s Dairy Bar on Chicot Road, Cloverdale Dairy Bar at 8025 New Benton Highway, Frosty House on the New Benton Highway at the entrance to Meadowcliff, the Satellite Burger Barn on Asher, Miller’s Coffee Shop on Main, the Little Rock Inn at 14th and Main, the Sweden Creme at 15th and Main, Beasley’s at the intersection of Stagecoach and Colonel Glenn, Winkler’s at Seventh and Johnson across from Lamar Porter Field, Tom & Andrew’s on Capitol between Louisiana and Center, Shakey’s on Rebasmen Park Road, SOB on Markham at Stifft Station, Wes Hall’s Minute Man at 407 Broadway, Franke’s on Capitol, Harry’s Fried Chicken on West Roosevelt and Bruno’s Little Italy in Levy and then on West Roosevelt from 1949-78.

Do you have memories of any of these restaurants? Please share them in the Comments section if you do.

The website has additional information on several Little Rock restaurants from those days. Here are a few of the listings:

— “Snappy Service, affectionately known as just Snappy’s, at Seventh and Broadway. Before you drove into Snappy’s, you stopped a couple of blocks away and detached the vacuum line to your carburetor. Then your engine would lope as you drove through. All the parking was covered, and the cover acted like a megaphone so a loping engine echoed and shook the ground. I don’t even remember if Snappy’s had inside seating. If they did, nobody ever went there. You couldn’t see and be seen if you were inside. Snappy’s had the first carhops in Arkansas, and before long every drive-in followed suit. Snappy Service was a chain based in Indiana. It went out of business in 1983. Closest thing now is Sonic. According to Sandra Mizumoto Posey, who holds a doctorate in folklore from UCLA, the word “carhop” dates back to the early 1920s when servers at the Pig Stand Drive-In (on U.S. 80 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area) would hop onto an automobile’s running board to deliver food. Running boards disappeared after World War II, but the carhop lives on.”

— “Lido: There were three Lidos in the early 1950s, owned by the same people. Lido Cafeteria at 615 Main, Lido Inn at 103 Roosevelt and Lido Minute Man at 407 Broadway. Wes Hall bought the Broadway location and turned it into Wes Hall’s Minute Man, the Main Street cafeteria closed and by 1959 the Lido Inn at Main and Roosevelt was the only one remaining.”

— “Hank’s Dog House at two locations, 1714 Main in North Little Rock and 3614 Roosevelt in Little Rock, for after-the-prom impressions. Despite the name, Hank’s was upscale and featured steaks served by suited waiters on white tablecloths and fine china. For many years, it had the only oyster bar in Arkansas.”

— “Herb’s Barbecue started out at Markham and Van Buren and later moved to Fair Park Boulevard on the first curve north of Asher. Not as good as The Shack (Herb’s sauce was less tomato, contained mustard, wasn’t as spicy). Herb’s was closer than The Shack, though, and they had bulk takeout with a family pack that included everything you needed to make your own sandwiches. So lots of families, including mine, often went to Herb’s after church to buy the makings to take home.”

We’ll end with Browning’s. We’ve written about Browning’s a couple of times recently and are still hoping for that promised reopening later this fall.

Merritt writes, “After the movie, three steaming soft corn tortillas, a pat of butter and hot sauce. Ten cents. When I get to heaven, I’ll know I’m there because that will be on the menu, and I’ll have a pocket full of dimes.”

I do love those hot tortillas with butter. My south Texas wife used to tell me it was a “gringo thing” to put butter on tortillas. Then, she tried it and liked it. And we’ve never claimed Brownings was a Mexican restaurant. It wasn’t even Tex-Mex. It was Ark-Mex, and we miss it.

College football — Week 4

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

I forget the exact year, but Texas was bringing one of its great football teams to Arkansas to take on the Razorbacks.

Orville Henry wrote a lengthy Arkansas Gazette column (I know that’s redundant; all of Orville’s columns were lengthy) that broke down the many advantages the Longhorns had going into that game.

He ended the column this way: “Texas should win. Arkansas might.”

That’s the way I feel about the game that will be played at Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Alabama should win.

Arkansas might.

Alabama has superior athletes at most positions. Alabama has far more tradition. Alabama knows how to win big games on the road.

If these two teams were to play five times, Alabama likely would win four of them.

But that one Razorback win could happen Saturday. The fans might storm the field and carry the goal posts over to Dickson Street. We might still be talking about it 20 years from now.

Here’s what I think will really happen: Arkansas will play well and hang with Alabama for three quarters. Superior depth will make the difference in the fourth quarter. Alabama will win by nine.

The record was 4-3 last week, making us 18-6 for the year. I’m glad I incorrectly predicted the outcome Arkansas State’s home opener against Louisiana-Monroe. Steve Roberts needed that victory following an 0-2 start. At the same time the Hogs are playing the Crimson Tide on CBS this Saturday afternoon, the Red Wolves will be in Alabama playing the Troy Trojans on CSS/Cox Sports Television in the Sun Belt television game of the week.

The two private schools — Ouachita and Harding — let me down last week, resulting in the other two missed predictions. Harding lost at West Georgia in the Thursday night Gulf South Conference television game of the week on CSS/Cox Sports Television. And Ouachita lost a 37-31 thriller at home to UAM. The Tigers had 26 first downs to just 13 for the Boll Weevils, but turnovers made the difference. Ouachita had two crucial turnovers that UAM converted into scores. The Weevils had none.

Let’s get to the picks for this week:

Alabama 35, Arkansas 26 — As I’ve written on this blog before, Arkansas was my team in the Southwest Conference and Alabama was my team in the Southeastern Conference when I was growing up. My father played football at Ouachita in the 1940s with Sam Bailey, who went on to be Bear Bryant’s right-hand man for many years. Because of that, I felt a connection to the Alabama program. I was in Birmingham in 1981 when Bryant broke Amos Alonzo Stagg’s record for the most wins for a major college coach with an Iron Bowl Victory over Auburn. I was in Memphis a year later when Bryant coached his last game in the Libery Bowl with a win over Illinois. I celebrated last year when Alabama won the national championship. That said, I’m an Arkansan. I would love to see the Razorbacks pull the upset. I will say it again. Alabama should win. Arkansas might.

Troy 28, Arkansas State 24 — Both of these teams are off to 1-2 starts. Arkansas State lost to Auburn and Louisiana-Lafayette before defeating Louisiana-Monroe. Troy defeated Bowling Green 30-27 at home, lost 41-38 to Oklahoma State in Stillwater and then dropped a 34-33 heartbreaker to UAB in Birmingham. Troy has had some great teams through the years. This doesn’t appear to be one of them. Still, we expect tradition and the home-field advantage to make the difference Saturday afternoon.

Tulsa 28, UCA 20 — The Bears are 3-0 and step up in classification with a trip to Tulsa on Saturday. This is not one of Tulsa’s better teams, certainly not an offense to be confused with the ones Gus Malzahn fielded when he was the offensive coordinator there. Tulsa opened with a 51-49 loss at East Carolina, beat Bowling Green 33-20 at home and then was blitzed 65-28 at Oklahoma State last weekend. We happen to think UCA can hang with the Golden Hurricane. Not win, mind you. But the Bears will at least make it interesting Saturday night.

UAPB 30, Clark Atlanta 21 — UAPB lost its first two games of the season to UTEP and Alabama State. The Golden Lions have had two weeks to prepare for a Division II opponent, Clark Atlanta University of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. It’s a big venue as the two schools take part Saturday afternoon in the Gateway Classic at the Edward Jones Dome in downtown St. Louis. Clark Atlanta was 3-7 a year ago. The Panthers have started this season 2-1 with wins over Lane College and Miles College sandwiched around a loss to Albany State. The Golden Lions, with more scholarships and more talent, should pick up their first win of the season in the shadow of the Arch.

UAM 42, Arkansas Tech 35 — With more than 20 seniors, including talented quarterback Scott Buisson, this has the makings of the best UAM team in years. By Steve Mullins’ standards, the Tech program is down this fall. The Wonder Boys had an eight-game home winning streak broken in a big way last Saturday as Henderson rolled to an easy 45-21 victory in Russellville. It should be a bit of a track meet at Monticello (both defenses are suspect) Saturday night. UAM has the upper hand.

Ouachita 34, Harding 28 — Ouachita should be 3-0 but, as noted, turnovers (and penalties) made the difference in a close loss to UAM. The Tigers were listless in a loss to Harding a year ago. It will be interesting to see if the 2-1 Tigers show a bit more life this time against the 1-1 Bisons.

Henderson 27, Delta State 21 — This is a very good Reddie team, as evidenced by the big win in Russellville. In that game, Henderson quarterback Nick Hardesty completed 35 of 53 passes for 521 yards and five touchdowns. It was the fifth-highest passing total in Gulf South Conference history. Hardesty became only the seventh GSC passer to throw for more than 500 yards in a game. The 2-1 Reddies face a 2-1 Delta State team in Cleveland, Miss., that has lost to Jackson State, defeated Arkansas Tech and defeated then No. 20 Valdosta State. The road win last weekend vaulted Delta State to No. 23 in the American Football Coaches Association Division II poll. Henderson opened the season by routing Southeastern Oklahoma and then played relatively well in a 27-10 loss to No. 3 North Alabama on the road. It’s hard to believe the Reddies aren’t getting any votes for the Top 25. They’ll get votes after defeating Delta.

Valdosta State 19, Southern Arkansas 10 — The 0-3 Muleriders are in the middle of one tough stretch. After being shut out 20-0 at Harding to start the season, they’ve had to travel to Division I-AA Texas State and to North Alabama (which might as well be Division I since Terry Bowden has 26 Division I transfers). The Muleriders lost 31-17 to Texas State and 48-6 to North Alabama. Valdosta started the season with wins over Wingate and Newberry before losing 27-23 to Delta State at home.

Jay Jennings’ “Carry The Rock”

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Following his graduation from Little Rock’s Catholic High School for Boys in 1976, Jay Jennings decided to walk on for the football team at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

“It was pretty illogical,” he tells me over breakfast at the Capital Hotel. “I had wanted to try playing football at the college level, but I ended up getting accepted at a Southeastern Conference school.”

Had he gone to an Ivy League school, he likely could have played.

But the SEC, the greatest college football conference of them all?

Jennings spent the summer working out with Little Rock Hall graduate Greg Martin, the Vanderbilt kicker. Upon entering college, it didn’t take Jennings long to figure out that he wouldn’t play much at the SEC level.

He vividly remembers the week he spent impersonating the Alabama tailback.

“I wanted to say to those tackling me in practice, ‘The guy you face Saturday is going to be a lot faster than me.’ It was fun to give it a try. But there was no future there for me.”

There was, however, a future as a writer. And Jennings is a fine one. After graduating from Vanderbilt, he earned a graduate degree in English literature from the University of Chicago and taught for a time before moving to New York in 1986 to pursue his writing career. He was later a reporter at Sports Illustrated.

His new book is titled “Carry The Rock: Race, Football and the Soul of an American City.”

Jennings moved back to Little Rock in May 2007 after convincing the then head football coach at Little Rock Central High School, Bernie Cox, to give him total access to the school’s football program. The book weaves the story of that team’s 6-4 campaign in the fall of 2007 into the complex history of race relations in this state and its largest city.

No one could have predicted in the autumn of 2007 that Central High would go 0-10 in football in both 2008 and 2009. Cox announced his retirement from Central High last year and is now an assistant at Arkansas Baptist High School, where he also teaches. He’s a central character in the book, albeit a reluctant one who has never sought to draw attention to himself.

“Bernie Cox has a voice that’s oddly soft for a coach,” Jennings writes. “Background noise of any kind — an air conditioner, an idling bus, a lawn mower, Central’s marching band at practice, even a cell phone’s ringtone — might eclipse it.

“As he started addressing the parents at a preseason meeting in Central’s auditorium, the same one Mary Lewis had christened with her arias 80 years before, the listeners scattered across the orchestra seats leaned forward to hear. His voice may have been soft, but he was delivering his own aria, one that differed in tone from year to year but in some ways was as unchanging as any by Verdi. He hit the same notes in 2007 that he’d been hitting since 1975, his first year as head coach.

“Standing in front of the stage rather than on it, he was sure some of the parents wouldn’t like what they heard from him, but then, some never did. The parents he didn’t care for were the ones who either didn’t participate in their sons’ football lives at all or participated too much. The former group saddened him.”

Eddie Dean wrote a glowing review of Jennings’ book for last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. In summarizing the “Carry The Rock,” Dean writes: “As the Tigers struggle on the field, Little Rock faces its own problems. A school board divided along race lines bickers publicly, while appeals courts grapple with inequities wrought by decades of school redistricting and other failed attempts to emulate Central’s example. As the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine approaches, former Tiger star Ken Richardson, a member of the city board of directors, sums up Little Rock’s racial dilemma: ‘Are we really embracing each other or are we just tolerating each other?’

“By addressing that question, ‘Carry The Rock’ transcends the season-on-the-brink genre. Mr. Jennings recounts painful events from Little Rock’s past, including the 1927 lynching of a black man, whose body was paraded through town and burned in a pyre by a mob that foreshadows the throngs that 30 years later harangued the Little Rock Nine. Mr. Jennings reminds us that the murderers escaped trial and that, for years, the public memory of the lynching survived in the oral histories of local blacks, not in history books.

“As for the current moment, Mr. Jennings uses his home-field advantage to capture moments that an out-of-town writer might miss.”

Indeed, Jay Jennings has a home-field advantage. He comes from a well-known Little Rock family. His father, Walter, is now 89, retired from First Commercial Trust and attending many of the events being held to mark the release of the book. Walter Jennings graduated from Little Rock High School in 1939.

“The fact that Dad was alive when the 1927 events I wrote about occurred makes you realize how present the past is,” Jay Jennings says.

In the acknowledgments section of his book, Jennings writes: “My late uncles, Earp Jennings Jr. and Alston Jennings Sr., managers for the Little Rock High School football teams in 1932 and 1933, respectively, went on to become no less than one of the best chemical engineers and one of the best trial lawyers in the country and are a testament to the enduring quality of public education in Little Rock.”

In the book’s prologue, Jennings includes this quote from James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son”: “In the context of the Negro problem neither whites nor blacks, for excellent reasons of their own, have the faintest desire to look back; but I think that the past is all that makes the present coherent, and further, that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly.”

Jennings then writes: “The living present soon becomes the past, and you never know when your own small history will become large, which coach’s words will ring in your ears dozens of years later, what personal fight might ascend to the highest court in the land. So the little battles of Little Rock matter. Now, the ordinary politics — the school board races and the local legal actions, the ones that matter most to the people who live here — consume the coummunity.”

Indeed, a full 53 years after the 1957 crisis, those little battles matter.

A review of “Carry The Rock” by Howard Bryant in Sunday’s New York Times wasn’t as positive as The Wall Street Journal review five days earlier had been.

“Jennings writes insightfully about the lack of interaction between white and black players on the Tigers; a theme throughout the football parts of the book is the lack of cohesiveness among these Tigers and the dire on-field consequences,” Bryant writes. “But he does not go further. He does not ask them why this is the case or provide their opinions about the world they live in — one where they listen to the same music and wear the same uniform but where, after many championships and a half-century of ‘progress’ in ostensibly post-racial America, they still do not spend time at each other’s homes.”

As a Little Rock resident, though, I believe the book strikes just the right tone.

In the acknowledgments section, Jennings quotes James Baldwin again: “I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”

Jennings is more than a good writer. He is a credit to the craft. And with “Carry The Rock,” he is, above all, honest in his assessment of 21st century Little Rock.

The Dreamland Ballroom

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Historic preservation is rarely quick or easy.

Just ask Little Rock’s Kerry McCoy. She fell in love with Taborian Hall in 1991. Bill Clinton wasn’t even the president yet.

Almost two decades later, she’s still trying to restore the old place.

Here’s how she describes it at the website “I first fell in love with Taborian Hall from its outside appearance, a stately, three-story, red brick building, standing alone on Interstate 630, abandoned, with a huge hole in the roof letting in the sun and rain. I always envisioned my company, Arkansas Flag & Banner, housed in a building of such grandeur.

“After driving by many times, I finally got up the courage to come inside. Stepping over debris and skirting the homeless people, I worked my way to the third floor and … it was beyond love at first sight. Because the roof was missing, birds were flying around and the sun was illuminating the room. Staring across the open hole in the floor to the Dreamland stage and box seats, I had a feeling that was indescribable, a kind of euphoria. It could have been because I was pregnant with my third child and my nesting instincts were heightened, but whatever it was, it sent me on a chain reaction that I have never regretted.

“I love this old building and have had many offers from people wanting to purchase it, renovate it, make a club of it or some apartments and even a school. But I keep to my original vision. Maybe it’s not the best business decision, but it’s a decision of the heart — to renovate the Dreamland Ballroom into an event center to be shared with the whole community. If you are ever lucky enough to go upstairs and see the Dreamland, I think you will feel its magic too.”

McCoy created the Friends of Dreamland, a nonprofit organization to raise money for the restoration. Additional information can be found at the website. Those wishing to donate also can call (501) 255-5700 or send an e-mail to

Taborian Hall, at the corner of Ninth and State streets in downtown Little Rock, was part of the Ninth Street business corridor. For years that corridor was, in essence, the Main Street for blacks in Arkansas. Earlier known as Taborian Temple, it was built for the fraternal insurance organization known as the Knights and Daughters of the Tabor. A black contractor named Simeon Johnson went to work on the building in 1916 and completed construction two years later.

More than 1,500 people were in attendance for the 1918 dedication of Taborian Temple.

In August 1918, the Negro Soldiers Club opened on the first floor to provide a recreational outlet for black soldiers stationed at Camp Pike. The building also would house the offices of black doctors and dentists, along with a pharmacy, through the years.

The website picks up the story in the 1930s: “By 1937, the Dreamland Ballroom was firmly established on Taborian’s third floor. The popular dance hall with its famous ‘swing floor’ was a hotbed for big bands, jazz and blues and the scene for dances, socials and basketball games. It was a regular stop for the Chittlin’ Circuit, a national touring company of professional black entertainers, revues and stage shows.

“With the advent of World War II, the USO bought the building and turned the first to the third floors into a club that served thousands of black soldiers from Camp Robinson and the Stuttgart Air Base. The Dreamland ripped and rollicked during those war years and beyond with legendary musical artists including ‘Fatha’ Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald, and comedians Redd Foxx and Sammie Davis. Local stars cut their musical teeth in the Dreamland too.”

The Taborian Temple became known as Taborian Hall in the early 1950s and soon housed the Twin City Club in the basement, the Waiters Club on the second floor and the Club Morocco where the Dreamland had been. B.B. King and Ray Charles were among those who performed on Ninth Street in those days.

By the early 1970s, though, what was known as urban renewal (but was actually the massive destruction of city neighborhoods across the country) had laid waste to the Ninth Street corridor. Taborian Hall stood empty until McCoy purchased it in 1991.

She estimates the cost of fully restoring the upstairs ballroom to be $1 million. She had hoped to finish the third-floor restoration work in 2012, though the Great Recession has slowed fundraising efforts considerably.

The Friends of Dreamland’s new executive director is Amber Jones. The native Arkansan is an Arkansas Tech graduate who earlier had worked at Curran Hall. An initial $50,000 will be used to install hardwood flooring on the third floor so fundraising events can be held there.

Ann McCoy, Kerry’s mother-in-law, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette earlier this year: “My favorite thing now is the view from the big windows. You can see the Capitol building, Philander Smith. It just has a beautiful view.”

A recent story by Becca Bona in The Daily Record described Kerry McCoy this way: “It’s important to note that McCoy is one dynamic individual. She has always been a go-getter, apparent from her hard work of starting a business when she was 20 years old with a mere $400. When the lively entrepreneur fell in love with the crumbling building, she knew that a project would ensue. She didn’t know about the inside of the building until later. … She said she had planned to restore the third-floor ballroom and make it open to the public by 2000. Unfortunately, the price range for renovation was always a hair out of her reach.”

McCoy told Bona: “I love this project, but it’s overwhelming. I can’t stand lost opportunities.”

Let’s hope Little Rock’s business leadership, which has failed to capitalize on so many opportunities through the years (note the impending destruction of historic Ray Winder Field by UAMS), will step up to help Kerry McCoy achieve her dream while preserving an important part of this state’s largest city.

A dove hunter’s sampler

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

In the previous post, it was noted that the Labor Day weekend dove hunt is an important tradition, not only in my family but across the South.

Here a sampling of some interesting writing on the subject.

Jonathan Miles writing in Field & Stream: “If you spotted them from a distance, piled onto a flatbed trailer padded with hay bales, a tractor hauling them down a lonesome highway bisecting rice and bean and cotton fields, you might mistake them for ole-timey field hands being trucked to work. Look more closely, however, and you’d notice the shotguns leaned beside them, the oiled stocks glinting in the sun, and the dogs and children jittery with excitement.

“The tractor turns off the highway and onto a field road, the trailer rocking in the ruts until coming to a stop at a brown patch of dead sunflowers hemmed by green timber. Here the hunters disembark, dispersing themselves into the wilted flowers, children trailing their fathers and dogs their owners, and after the folding stools are unfolded and the shotguns loaded, and the children hushed and the dogs stilled, the hunters sit motionlessly and wait, all eyes aimed at the wide blue sky.

“Already they’re sweating. It’s early September in the Mississippi Delta, and the heat index hovers near triple digits. Yet autumn is on its way, and after just a few silent minutes they can see it coming: three ash-colored specks in the sky, a trio of birds coursing and diving and zigzagging toward the sunflowers. When a hunter leaps from his stool and fires, it’s official. Dove season has started, and autumn has arrived.

“More than the reappearance of school buses on the roads, it’s the dove opener that signals summer’s passing in the Deep South, which is perhaps why dove shoots — big, communal events with dozens of hunters scattered throughout a field — have so long been paired with celebrations, barbecues, grand revels. In Northern climes, the hunting of mourning doves — which some consider songbirds — is a controversy-scarred topic. … In the South, however, dove hunting is a venerable tradition, older than bourbon and as beloved as college football. Dove hunting offers challenging pass-shooting, it’s true, but here it’s about much more than that: kids, wives, dogs, camaraderie, post-hunt cocktails, grilled dove breasts and pork barbecue, old custom and the changing of the seasons.”

R. Michael DiLullo writing at “Throughout much of the Southern United States, Labor Day weekend is the opener for mourning doves. Dove hunting in the South represents the beginning of fall and another hunting season, the start of the harvest, a chance to be afield again and to renew old acquaintances. The return of the migratory mourning doves each fall draws hunters of all ages to the crop fields.

“The dove fields of the South are special places, where the stories and the learning process are as important as the hunting itself. For many Southern youngsters, the dove field will be their formal introduction into hunting and the shooting sports. It is also the beginning of their kinship with the outdoors, the reverence of nature that lives in all true outdoorsmen. These lessons will be the foundations of lifelong ethics, values and traditions. The handing down of vast knowledge passed on from fathers’ fathers is ensured and will continue into the next generation.

“The dove fields of the South also bring together a rich diversity of cultures and social status. Men (and increasingly more women) of all walks of life gather each September to renew their bonds with nature and test their skills against the aerobatic doves. Their shotguns are as diverse as the sportsmen themselves for nowhere in the shooting sports will you see such a varied selection of scatter guns used for downing a game bird. Fine English doubles, vintage American classics by such legendary gun makers as Parker, Smith, Fox, Browning and Winchester are stationed next to modern auto-loaders and pump guns.”

Tom Bryant writing in The Pilot in North Carolina: “The little Confederate gray mourning dove does more to kick off the fall hunting social season for us good old boys than a new shotgun, pit-cooked barbecue, hushpuppies and a longneck Budweiser could. Although the aforementioned help immensely and, most of the time, are included. Dove hunting season has become a major event in the South. I should rephrase that to say the opening few days of the season usher in the real stuff, and then everyone settles into their specialty. Quail hunters concentrate on where the coveys are. Deer hunters start putting up their tree stands, scouting for rubs and limbering up the bows or sighting in black-powder guns. Duck hunters begin cleaning up decoys and getting duck boats ready in preparation for the main event. … But all of that comes later.

“First of all, we’ve got to go dove hunting. Dove hunts take place in different ways, from the fine-linen, top-of-the-line, sophisticated event to the out-behind-the-barn, down-close-to-the-creek, next-to-the-freshly-cut-cornfield hunts that were my early introduction to the fine art of dove shooting. No two opening days are the same. And yet, if you’ve been to one, you’ve almost been to them all. … Like untold thousands of dove hunters across the South, we will join the noble pursuit of an amazing little Southern bird that means so much to us.”

Finally, back to Jonathan Miles: “In the South, dove hunts do not draw quietly to a close. Sometimes, at the simplest end, a grill and cooler are hauled to the edge of the field, and the doves’ breasts are grilled — usually swaddled in bacon, maybe with a jalapeno tucked inside — as the hunters tell and retell stories of the day’s shooting.

“Other post-hunt celebrations, especially in the Mississippi Delta, veer toward the baroque, with candelabra on the tables and servants buzzing around. At the Labrays’ (a farm near Alligator, Miss., owned by Edward Labry of Memphis), the hunters and I rejoin their families beneath a ring of pecan trees near the stately, white Depression-era house that serves as the property’s ‘camp.’ There we feast on the day’s dove harvest and a 102-pound hog, black and crispy from 24 hours in a smoker, while children scamper around the trees and a bartender muddles old-fashioneds.

“When the sun sets over the fields, and that flat Delta darkens, the air seems cooler, not just from the sun’s departure but from a gathering chill that is creeping toward my bones. It’s a subtle reminder that autumn is on its way — and I can’t help but feel, after a day in a dove field, that it’s been properly welcomed.”

Autumn officially arrives next week. But I welcomed it on the unseasonably cool morning of Saturday, Sept. 4, in a field along the Monroe County-Lee County line.

Long live the tradition of Labor Day weekend dove hunts.

Joining the Southern dove hunters

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

It’s now the middle of September, and I’ve been dove hunting just once.

The year will end, and I still will have been dove hunting just once.

You see, I’m like a lot of dove hunters. I go out into the fields on opening morning, and I don’t go again. College football takes up the rest of my fall Saturdays.

But I look forward to that opening morning and have since I was a child.

The weeks surrounding Labor Day always meant four things at my house when I was growing up — the start of school, the start of football season, the start of dove season and my birthday (Sept. 2).

I don’t do much to celebrate my birthday these days (I’ve grown too old for that), but I cherish the start of football season and, though I now go only once, I enjoy the start of dove season. Though the temperatures are still hot, these events signal that fall is coming. They’re a part of the rhythm of my life.

I almost overdid it in those final days of August and first days of September. Too many events, too little sleep. Anxious to see an actual football game, I went out to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on the evenings of Monday, Aug. 30, and Tuesday, Aug. 31, to watch high school contests. On Wednesday, Sept. 1, I made the trip to Gene Lockwood’s in west Little Rock to buy shotgun shells and my hunting license. Hunting season was approaching.

My birthday fell on a Thursday, and that was the night of Ouachita’s first game of the season. I began my 29th season of doing Ouachita’s football play by play on the radio, signed off the postgame show at 10:35 p.m., left the press box at 11 p.m., had a late dinner while sitting in the parking lot of the McDonald’s in Malvern and got home at 12:30 a.m. But after a long day of work, I was back at War Memorial Stadium that Friday night to watch the Salt Bowl between Benton and Bryant. From there, it was off to KARN-FM to co-host the high school scoreboard show from 10 p.m. until midnight. I was in bed shortly after 12:30 a.m.

The 4 a.m. alarm certainly came quickly. Still, I bounded from the bed, anxious to make the familiar drive to see my friends at the Piney Creek Duck Club in Monroe. Wiley, Steve, Don, Mickey, Rex, Art, Tom and the rest of the dove hunting regulars would be waiting on me.

Yes, there’s another Rex who hunts there. We also duck hunt together on occasion. They call us the Rex Who Cooks (that would be Rex Johnson, a great breakfast cook) and the Rex Who Eats (that would be me).

For the Rex Who Eats, the brunch is as much a part of a trip to Piney Creek as are the duck and dove hunts.

Heading east on Interstate 40 through the darkness, it was easy to spot the pickup trucks of those who were going dove hunting. Some had dog boxes in the back. Others pickups carried four-wheelers.

I exited the interstate at Biscoe, headed east on U.S. Highway 70 across the Cache River, went south for a bit on Arkansas Highway 17, made the straight shot east through the fields on Arkansas Highway 241 (while again wondering who owns that nice duck club on the right) until it intersected with U.S. Highway 49. I then made the short trip south on U.S. 49 until turning onto Arkansas Highway 39 into Monroe. Got it?

The weather could not have been better. Usually on that first Saturday in September, you’re sweating before the sunrise and slapping mosquitoes. On this morning, I was actually chilly prior to daylight in my camouflage T-shirt. We killed some doves (and I retained my title as the world’s worst shot). There have been years when it was better. There have been years when it has been worse.

I would call this hunt average by Piney Creek standards. But (and I know this is trite; all of those who write about hunting say this) it’s about much more than killing birds. It’s about the friendships and the tall tales. It’s about getting outside and watching the sun come up over the flat east Arkansas landscape.

And it’s about brunch.

The older I get, the less I care about how much I shoot.

At least I could make myself useful cleaning the doves. Though I can’t shoot worth a darn, my dad did teach me how to pop a dove breast out quickly. So while the other Rex cooked, I helped Mickey and Tom clean doves.

Brunch consisted of pork chops, scrambled eggs, biscuits, muscadine jelly and fried potatoes. A nap would have been in order, but I fought the urge and made the drive back to Little Rock, listening to college football games on XM along the way.

It had been a great morning, and I had played my part in a Southern tradition.

This is how R. Michael DiLullo described i5 in a story at “Men like Nash Buckingham and Robert Ruark penned their impressions and laid down on paper what would become for me the foundation of my hunting experience. These men shared a common love of being afield with their dogs. They hunted a variety of game, some on different continents, but they both shared a fondness for the Southern dove hunt. … Most of Southern hunting, I would find, is more on a social level than of solitude and individualism. The lonely baying of a coon dog across a dark swamp, the excitement of a pack of hounds as they jump deer, the flush of a quail covey and a tom’s early morning gobble were all visceral and shared experiences.

“Southern dove hunting is a cultural social function; it is about camaraderie and, more importantly, tradition. It is a community event, and it is quite common to see three or more generations of family members heading out together to the dove fields. Dove hunting’s history and traditions can be traced far back into the culture — traditions which have been handed down through generations of Southern hunters, some of who’s lineage can be traced to the original settlers of the very land on which they hunt.”

Indeed, we ate our brunch on a piece of land that has been in the Meacham family for almost 100 years.

When I was growing up, I dove hunted more than once each season. If the season opened on the Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend, we would be out there on Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon (Sunday morning was reserved for the First Baptist Church), Monday morning and Monday afternoon. My dad loved to shoot doves, and he was a great shot. He has been raised in Saline County in a poor family during the Great Depression and being able to shoot well at rabbits and squirrels meant the difference between a supper with meat on the table and one with only biscuits and gravy.

The Labor Day morning hunt with my dad’s great friend O.J. “Buddy” Harris and his two sons, Cliff and Tommy, was a family tradition. Cliff and Tommy would go on to be decent football players as you Ouachita, Razorback and Dallas Cowboy fans might remember.

Dad would delight in telling the story of cleaning more than 100 doves one Labor Day and giving them all to a local grocery store owner. Henry loved to eat doves. And he loved to take a drink.

A week later, my dad asked him: “How were those doves?”

Henry answered: “Never give me another dove. I was so sick for two days that I couldn’t even get out of bed. Either I got some bad doves or some bad whiskey. I want to think it was the doves.”